It was a Friday night and I was standing by my front window glaring out onto my yard. As I was about to turn to walk away I felt something let go in my left knee. Ooh! That didn’t feel good. As I walked away, my knee was weakened with a dull but very uncomfortable pain. I didn’t really think much of it, other than to shrug it off as a wrong step.
When I woke up with my knee in pain the next morning, I knew I must have done something a little more serious. Hoping a couple of days rest from exercise would fix it up, I was grateful that I injured it on the weekend. My typical workout routine runs Monday through Friday, so this being a Saturday, I figured things would work themselves out.
By Monday, my knee was still a going concern. Not really overly concerned with breaking it further, I decided to go workout anyway. Hoping that a good workout might shift whatever is wonky back into place again. But no such luck. While it didn’t get worse, I did compensate with my other leg during my workout, and that extra burden made that leg hurt.
This went on for about a week. While the pain really didn’t get worse, I did feel very uncomfortable working out, but I persevered. Working out is a lifeline for my sanity.
By week two, I started to wonder if perhaps I should go see a doctor about this mystery pain. My knee wasn’t any worse, it even felt a little better, but my legs, in general, were a mess from all of the extra burden placed on them. While I felt a weird pain in my knee, it never really felt structural or anything like that. I still had full mobility.
Was the pain even physical?
I had heard of emotional pain transcending into physical pain, but I never experienced it myself, at least not enough to make me wonder about that kind of stuff. This time, I was open to the idea. My knee while being a pain, wasn’t leaving me crippled. What kind of emotional distress would cause my left knee to break? It was then I began my journey to mindful medicine. Could the stress in my life cause pain to appear in my left knee? You bet!
After some research, I had found that what I was experiencing was a psychogenic pain. This is physical pain that is caused by increased, or prolonged mental, emotional, or behavioural factors. The physical pain I was feeling in my knee was giving me emotional relief as every time my knee would send a message to my brain, I would not think about the stresses that were consuming me. Like an animal pretending to be wounded as to fend off a predator, my mind was protecting me from my worry.
After some research as to why my mind would target my left knee, my non-dominant side. I had learned that left knee pain can be caused by stresses of insecurity and ego issues.
With a little more mindfulness, I realized that my stresses of late were surrounding feelings of ineptitude at both my job and my home life. I have just embarked on a new career journey, and it has left me feeling very insecure about my abilities at work. I am always second guessing myself and worrying about what my co-workers might be thinking about my new role. On top of that, I also volunteered to host a staff party at my home from members of my second job. While this may not bug many, I felt that what I have for a home would not be good enough. This certainly not a dig on them as they are all amazingly supportive and easy-going people. I just felt as though I don’t have enough to offer them.
Bingo! Ego? Check. Insecurities? Check.
Once I was able to grasp what it is that I was stressing over, things began to fall into place. While my knee wasn’t responding to my positive reassurances to myself right away, I never gave up a workout. Exercise releases endorphins into the bloodstream which is short for “endogenous morphine.” Endorphins act as a painkiller so even though my knee would hurt at the start of a workout, by the time I walked out of the gym door, I had a small reprieve from the pain. During that brief time when I wasn’t concerned with my knee, I was thinking about how to get over my stresses.
As the days went by with each lunge, burpee, and squat, I felt my emotional pain through as I worked my legs and mind back into good health. While I could have taken drugs to dull the pain in my knee, I would have just delayed the emotional pain for another day. Working on my stress both physically through exercise and mentally through practiced mindfulness was the only way out of this.
By the time the day came that I was about to host my staff party, my knee had fully recovered. In fact, as I cleaned my home in anticipation of their arrival, my knee felt better with every step. My mind was eased as I felt more confident in my ability to deliver an excellent experience for my guests and by the next morning after the event, my knee was completely back to 100%.
With this new experience under my belt, I had to wonder how many other bouts of pain in my past were a result of my emotional trauma and general stress. I also have to wonder how many people out there are suffering from mystery ailments and are medicating themselves with chemicals and easy outs. Meanwhile, they are trapped in an emotional rollercoaster spiralling with peaks of pain in both the mind and body.
I will never put into doubt that our bodies break down from time to time and that not all pain is caused by emotional stress. However, I do have a new understanding that our minds without hands and feet of their own, use our physical bodies as puppets to fix the pains that we neglect to address. While we often seek cheap fixes for the aches and strains in our physical life, if we looked from within a little more, we may find that our relief can come from a new perspective.